Header image: Earthworker is a worker owned collective which will manufacture and sell solar hot water technology made in Morwell.
A year after Hazelwood power station’s closure, some Latrobe Valley locals are reporting experiencing clearer air and bluer skies. For Lorraine Bull, who lives just across the freeway from Hazelwood in Morwell, the results were immediate. She was no longer breathing its toxic pollution, and two days later her long-term sinus problems improved dramatically, “I had not even acknowledged that I was affected by the unseen pollution” she said.
But of course it isn’t all blue skies in Morwell. We ran a local online survey to hear what Latrobe Valley locals had to say about their experience. Community members told us that families and businesses are dealing with serious economic and employment challenges with some employers abandoning the region.
At the same time jobs are growing in the health and solar industries, and our survey of local community members showed that people were noticing an impact from increased government support for economic transition.
When we asked what industries they were hopeful would develop in the Latrobe Valley, almost everyone said renewable energy.
The government should pour money into developing renewable energy in the area and training workers in this new industry. The Latrobe Valley may still have the opportunity to be a WORLD leader in renewable energy despite the reluctance of those in power currently. I for one would love to see that.
There is a strong movement who want the Offshore Wind Farms to be built in the Bass Strait off the Gippsland coast. I hope locals research wind farms and how successful they are in Denmark, Scotland and Germany. Then they too will appreciate the opportunity for Latrobe Valley for clean energy to be fed into the energy grid in Latrobe.
Invest in renewable energy industries. With a widely distributed population, we need to develop community based energy systems rather than relying on the grid. The core element of energy efficiency is education of the public. We need to invest in this.
The good news is that there is huge potential for growing the renewable energy industry in the Latrobe Valley and making use of the existing skills and infrastructure. And there are already incredible local people and groups working hard to create jobs in renewable energy in the Latrobe Valley.
Earthworker (pictured) is about to launch their Energy Manufacturing Cooperative, a worker owned collective which will manufacture and sell high quality solar hot water technology at their Morwell factory. The Gippsland Climate Change Network is now host to a Community Power Hub, which will work to bring community-owned renewable projects to the Latrobe Valley. Groups like the Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group and Voices of the Valley have also successfully advocated for the health of the community, demanding safe and proper mine rehabilitation and generating strong local interest in sustainable development for the region.
The Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA), a transition initiative of the Victorian government, is also making a difference. Since it was established last year the authority has helped to place 150 Hazelwood workers into jobs at other power stations, created a back to work scheme to enable local businesses to hire and train unemployed people, launched a retrofit 1000 homes with energy efficiency upgrades and solar as well as providing ongoing transition support for all Hazelwood workers and their families.
Unlike the trauma caused in the late 90s when there was no government response at all due to massive job cuts in the power industry, at least the Latrobe Valley Authority was formed to support affected workers and help them transition.
I have seen positives like commitment to rail upgrades, performing arts centre and indoor pool in Traralgon, support for Hazelwood workers.
The LVA has also faced a number of challenges. It was not created until after Hazelwood’s closure was announced, meaning it’s had to play catch up from day one, and many residents still do not feel aware of or involved in its operations. It only has four years of funding, doesn’t have independent decision-making power, and is not a statutory authority so is vulnerable to changes in government.
Based on the community consultation and our history of working for a just and fair transition in the Latrobe Valley, Environment Victoria has developed three core policies for the Latrobe Valley that we are taking to all candidates vying to be elected this November:
We’d love to know what you think of these policies. Please drop us a line at [email protected] if you have comments or questions.
Moving away from coal is urgent if we want to limit the damaging impact of global warming. But to do justice to local communities we need to transition to a pollution free society in a way that is sustainable and fair.